Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms that include abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation or both that persist for two months or longer. It is considered a brain-gut disorder because it can affect the way the stomach processes food and make the child's gut more sensitive to pain and bloating.

IBS, also known as spastic colon, colitis, nervous colon and spastic bowel is the most common cause of recurrent abdominal pain in children: 10% to 15% of children have IBS at some point. It can cause emotional suffering or embarrassment and disrupt a child's life and activities.

IBS is not a sign that something is inherently wrong with the stomach or intestines. It is not an early warning of cancer or another GI condition. Stress can trigger the symptoms but not cause IBS on its own.

Types of IBS

Experts have classified IBS into three categories, depending on the symptoms:

  • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)

Health care providers need to know what type of IBS a child has so they can make appropriate treatment decisions.

How we care for irritable bowel syndrome

The Boston Children's Hospital Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutritionis the #1 ranked pediatric gastroenterology department by U.S. News & World Report. Our team of over 45 highly specialized doctors and over 60 clinicians includes social workers, dietitians and psychologists who are devoted to treating the whole child, and who work alongside our incredibly dedicated nurses every step of the way. This expertise and teamwork allows us to give your child a more specific diagnosis and exceptional level of personalized care.